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Death of the wedding party? Couples scale back

March 22, 2013 at 10:44 AM ET

Are bridesmaids and groomsmen on their way out? More couples now opt for simpler weddings.
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Are bridesmaids and groomsmen on their way out? More couples now opt for simpler weddings.

Relief may be on the horizon for countless women and their wardrobes as wedding season rolls around this summer: traditional bridal parties seem to be falling out of fashion.

Newly engaged couples emboldened by a new wave of creative independence — coupled with financial restraint — are ditching expensive customs once thought to be marital must-haves. Gone are the herds of bridesmaids, the traditional white poofy bridal gowns, the first dance, and even the cutting of the cake (with the expected slap-a-piece-in-the-groom’s-face moment).

“More couples are opting to keep their ceremony sweet, soulful and simple,” Tatiana Byron, CEO of luxury bridal showcase The Wedding Salon, told TODAY.com, adding “they’re going back to the basics.”

More Americans are getting married in their late 20s and early 30s, according to the Brookings Institution, which mean they’re getting more time to contemplate their nuptial style. And it looks like simplicity is turning into... one of the hottest new wedding trends?

“Less people means less stress,” said Philadelphia-based wedding photographer Shannon Collins, who has noticed a rise in brides and grooms asking friends to get involved in their weddings in alternative ways, such as providing hair and makeup help or playing an instrument during the cocktail hour. “The cost of being a bridesmaid or groomsman quickly adds up… [instead] couples are including their friends in ways that are both meaningful and budget-friendly. “

For many, it’s not just an issue of money but one of comfort: they don’t want to deal with managing a circus of friends and family competing for a spot in an exclusive bridal party (with its pricey entrance fee).

Pennsylvania floral designer Sullivan Owen says half of her clients now go bridal party-free, explaining that they simply don’t want to deal with the opinions, attitudes and occasional catfights that ensue when managing a large group.

“Having no bridal party is logistically easier,” said Owen, who, as a florist, prefers the downsized trend. “It leaves room in the decor budget to splash out on the reception rather than having to purchase bouquets for 12 ladies.”

When you downsize the wedding party, “there's less pressure,” said Collins. “There’s a sense of ease because you're allowing your friends and family to just enjoy themselves as guests… [They] can focus on celebrating the couple in their own way.”

Cutting down on drama is a big factor for the modern bride, as the stressful picking and choosing of the bridal party often feels more like a headache than an honor. It’s tricky to avoid offending a cousin or childhood friend who may be waiting for acceptance like an eager “Bachelor” contestant.

“Ranking felt cruel,” said one New York bride who couldn't choose between the many friends she had accumulated since graduating from college, and therefore didn't have any bridesmaids. “I had best friends at various stages in my life...They don’t need to literally be standing next to me, though, for me to feel their support.”

And once they’re picked, the expectations for bridesmaids and groomsmen can be high, as their performance often becomes a sore point. A quick look at the topics on The Knot forum boards reads like a teenage burn book: “Maids driving me MAD!”, “Maid of honor – can I ask her to step down?”, “Groomsmen dragging their feet”, “Don’t want sister-in-laws in bridal party!” and the desperate “Will you be my bridesmaid?”)

And of course, there’s always (or at least there should always be) the guilt associated with those dreaded, epic bridesmaid dresses — the ones that sit in your closet, collecting dust and resentment.

“It’s weird to ask your friends to wear the same color — and sometimes style — that clearly will not be flattering on everyone,” said the bride. “I want my friends to feel as beautiful as they possibly can at my wedding. No need to put you in a green frock because it works with my day’s color palette.”

Wedding vendors like Collins are actually seeing an uptick in the brides who do have bridesmaids kindly permitting their bridal parties to pick their own dresses, which could mean a whole new era for just what a bridesmaid’s duties entail. The lucky ladies in these weddings get to shop at stores like Anthropologie or ModCloth, instead of traditional wedding outfitters like, say, David’s Bridal.

“It’s just not necessary,” said New Jersey native Michelle Greenspan, 30, who got married without the traditional fanfare last winter of having her maids wear matching dresses. Only her sister was made a bridesmaid, and she was allowed to pick her own style. It was a move entirely inspired by seeing countless other friends suffer through bridesmaid trials, and not wanting to inflict the same pain on their nerves — and pocketbook.

“I was lucky enough to have my mother and sister [help me with the wedding],” said Greenspan. “What else does a girl need?”

Certainly not a runway show of the same exact dress, says Byron.

“The days of having 15 bridesmaids are over.”

More from TODAY Weddings:

Registries gone wild: Couples ask for cars, toilets

'You're not invited' alerts: New wedding trend draws criticism

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